One of the sayings that you will hear echo throughout paddle sports circles is “Dress for the water”. What does that mean? We are going to take some time to explain the how to be safe, comfortable and warm when out and about.
As a Paddler there are basically two choices for outerwear:
DrySuits- A Dry Suit is the end all be all for cold water paddling. These suits will keep you warm and dry when immersed for long periods of time when proper insulating layers are worn. A Dry Suit will have waterproof gaskets in the neck, wrists and will most commonly have built in waterproof socks. A dry suit is best suited for cold water, inclement and or dynamic environments.
Paddling Suits/Surface Immersion Suits- These suits are less performance oriented than dry suits, making them a little more comfortable for paddlers who are looking for terrific thermal protection in calmer environments. These suits will also keep you dry and warm, when proper insulation is worn underneath. The main difference is that these suits do not have latex gaskets in the neck. Instead you will find adjustable neoprene gaskets that will keep a lot of the water out of the garment when immersed but not all. Paddling suits are best suited for cold water, calm environments. They are popular amongst wind surfers, sailors and kite boarders too.
Dry Tops, Dry Pants & Bibs: A Dry Top is constructed out of a waterproof breathable fabric with latex gaskets in the neck and wrists. It will keep you dry when immersed. This garment will also commonly have a body tube to be worn over the top of your spray skirt. These garments are especially popular with kayakers who have a strong roll. They offer a bit more less protection than a dry suit but work great if you are not going to exit your boat, or in warmer environments. Another common solution seen on the wter is the Dry Top wet-suit combo. This allows the paddler to stay dry while in the boat but have a tremendous amount of thermal protection should they find themselves in the water. *Let it be known that even paddlers with a bomber roll will have to swim from time to time.
Dry Pants will be constructed of a waterproof breathable material as well. Often times the waist will be constructed on neoprene. The neoprene waist should be a snug fit to keep water from entering the garment. Dry Pants will also have gaskets of either latex or neoprene in the ankles to keep water out. Some Dry Pants will have booties built in. Dry pants are most commonly worn with dry tops which are designed to over lap the pants to provide the best seal to keep water out. Dry Pants and jackets and terrific pieces for on the river or for touring.
Splash Jackets & Pants: Splash wear, as it is commonly referred to, is designed to keep the paddler dry when in the kayak not when in the water. A splash jacket will often have an adjustable neck gasket and adjustable wrist gaskets with a draw cord in the waist of the garment. They are intended to keep spray and incidental moisture of the paddler.
Splash Pants will have a neoprene waist band to keep a lot of the water out but not all. The garment will also have adjustable gaskets in the ankles, so like the splash top are intended to keep the paddler dry while on the water not in the water.
Splash garments are ideal for paddling in a recreational setting when conditions are relatively calm and paddlers are with in the proximity of the beach when paddling in a cold water environment. Paddlers have a bit more leeway in warm water.
What to wear underneath your dry-wear (the first layer you put on)
Neoprene- comes in all sorts of different configurations that range from full suits to shorts and tanks. The garments will also have different thicknesses that should be matched to the temperature of the water. Neoprene garments typically range from 0.5mm-7mm, the colder the environment the thicker the neoprene needs to be. Remember that in order for neoprene garments to do their jobs they need to be snug.
Farmer John/Jane- When selecting neoprene garments for paddling the most coverage you want to aim for would be a Farmer John or Jane. Imagine a full wetsuit, now cut off the arms and shoulders, now you have a farmer john. These suits look like a pair of overall’s hence the farmer moniker. The reason you are going with out arms and shoulders is simple. Kayaking requires a wide range of motion throughout those regions and you don’t want your motor to be hindered while you are out there. A Farmer John/Jane is commonly 3mm thick but they also come thinner. Again thick for cold thin for warm, the Farmer suits are super for short exposure to cold water, great for on the river or touring in cool water environments.
As a paddler you may also elect to go with neoprene separates: Long Sleeve, Short Sleeve, Pants or Shorts. These pieces are great on their own or when worn in sets. For paddlers in warmer environments these pieces will serve to take the chill off the paddler when on the water or when in the water. The thinner neoprene tops also serve to protect from chaffing when worn underneath a wetsuit. Seperates are also a great option for SUP'ers. The SUP stroke requires a lot of hinging from the wait so having a one piece wetsuit can hinder your ability to "hinge" and cause a bit of chaffing.
Water Temp 45-55F
In this environment your clothing should be broken into layers, thinner layers close to your skin to draw moisture away and thicker layers to provide insulation. It helps to wear breathable materials so you don’t trap moisture in when you perspire.
Base Layer- inner core, silk weight poly materials, whicking layers
Insulation- Base Core, 100 weight fleece, wool
Outer Layer- Dry Suit, paddling suit, dry wear (dry top / dry pants)
Padding Extras- Gloves, Booties, beanie etc…
Water Temp 55-70
How you dress and what you pack will be a function of your ability and training. Quick dry clothing is great for comfort but does not offer much in the way of insulation should you find yourself in the water. Water will remove heat from your body 25 times faster than air of the same temp.
For more insulation combine layers.
Example: Base Core underneath a Farmer John Base layer- Inner Core
Insulation- Outer Core,Hydroskin, neoprene
Outer Layer- Splash wear, Dry wear
Water Temp above 70
Make sure to pack insulation even on those hot summer days. It doesn’t take much to cool a paddler down if they are wet and the wind starts to blow. Pack a layer that will provide some insulation and protect you from the sun.
Insulation- Hydro Skin
Outer Layer- Breathable Jacket
*Please remember the clothing choices you make before heading out on the water are a function of risk for the day. The higher risk for the paddle that day the more paramount thermal protection becomes.
Your on water risk assessment should include but not be limited to the following:
Weather: Air Temp, Wind Direction and Velocity, Visibility, Worsening vs. Improving.
Water: Tides: Ebbing vs Flooding, Change in height, Swell direction, size and Period, Current speed and direction especially as it relates to wind and swell direction. Water Temp: Water cooler than about 60 degrees carries a high degree of risk. Temps 60-70 moderate risk, Water temps above 70 lower risk.
Land: Terrain, Remoteness, Outs, Landings - Swell, Beach Type
Paddler(s): Solo Paddling carries a higher degree of risk than paddling with a group. If paddling with a group, how experienced/trained are the paddlers you are with?
*Touring Specific: You or your groups proximity to land also affects the risk you assume for your paddle. Paddlers who are heading offshore into open water assume a higher risk than those staying close to shore. If you are going to paddle offshore further than you are willing to swim in to the beach please make sure your boats is fully compartmentalized (water tight hatches front and back), and you are familiar with capsize recovery.
Whitewater Risk Assessment:
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